Observations from Watching A Full Ohio State Practice for the First Time in 2022

By Dan Hope and Griffin Strom on August 11, 2022 at 1:17 pm
JK Johnson took first-team cornerback reps at Thursday’s practice.

For the first time all year, reporters who cover Ohio State had the opportunity to watch the Buckeyes go through a full practice on Thursday.

Big Ten Network was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Thursday for its stop at Ohio State as part of its annual preseason camp tour, and as such, Ohio State allowed members of the local media to also watch the entirety of practice.

That gave us our first opportunity to watch the Buckeyes go through team drills during preseason camp, giving us our best look yet at how Ohio State’s depth chart could stack up this fall and to see which Buckeyes are standing out in actual football settings. Ryan Day also met with the media after practice to provide more context on what we saw.

Brown, Johnson split first-team reps at cornerback

Two days after Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles expressed concerns about the Buckeyes’ cornerback depth, we got a glimpse at why on Thursday.

Ohio State had only four scholarship cornerbacks on the field during team drills Thursday as sophomore Jordan Hancock did not practice at all due to his injury while freshman Ryan Turner was a limited participant. Redshirt freshman safety Jantzen Dunn, who has been cross-training at cornerback during camp, also did not participate in any full-speed drills on Thursday. Fifth-year senior Cameron Brown did not participate in the 7-on-7 portion of practice, though he was on the field during 11-on-11 work.

When Brown wasn’t on the field, redshirt freshman JK Johnson took first-team reps opposite No. 1 cornerback Denzel Burke. True freshman Jyaire Brown and walk-on Lloyd McFarquhar were the second-team cornerbacks on Thursday – and McFarquhar took advantage of the opportunity by intercepting Kyle McCord during 7-on-7.

Cameron Martinez, who has also been cross-training at cornerback in camp, took some third-team reps on the outside while primarily practicing at nickel safety, where he mostly lined up with the second-team unit but mixed in for some first-team reps. 

Day said after practice that Cameron Brown, who has battled injuries throughout his Ohio State career, remains on a “pitch count” in practices as he was during the spring. As for Hancock, Turner and Dunn, Day said he does not expect any of the cornerbacks’ injuries to be long-term injuries, though he acknowledged that cornerback depth is one of his biggest concerns right now.

“It's top three,” Day said. “Yeah, we need to make sure we’re building depth there. We certainly have some candidates there. Some guys are bumped and bruised, but hopefully we’ll get them back soon and keep working.”

Fleming running with starters

Julian Fleming has been drawing a lot of praise this summer, with Ryan Day saying last week that the third-year wide receiver has “had the best offseason he's had to this point,” and Thursday was another indication that Fleming could be on track for his long-awaited breakout season.

During 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills on Thursday, Fleming took all of the first-team reps at Z receiver, with Marvin Harrison Jr. starting at X receiver and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the slot. Emeka Egbuka, who’s viewed as Fleming’s top competition for the third starting spot at receiver, spent Thursday’s practice with the second-team offense alongside with Xavier Johnson and Jayden Ballard. Kamryn Babb did not participate in team drills after suffering what Day described Thursday as “a little tweak,” though Day said he expects Babb to return to practice soon.

Fleming, who also ran as a first-team gunner during punt team work, showed off his explosiveness as he turned multiple short passes into longer gains.

Running with the first team in one practice doesn’t guarantee that Fleming will be a starter once the actual games begin, but Thursday was an indicator that Fleming might have the inside track on a starting job right now. That said, Day said after practice that he expects the Buckeyes to rotate more often at the outside receiver positions this year than they did last year, when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson played the vast majority of snaps.

“We're gonna let those guys rotate a little bit because they deserve to play,” Day said.

Day also said he has high expectations for Egbuka even though Egbuka wasn’t with the first-team offense on Thursday.

“He's really sharp. His work ethic is off the charts, toughness is off the charts, ball skills really good,” Day said of Egbuka. “If he just keeps putting days in front of days, he's gonna have a really good year.”

More depth chart notes

  • There were no surprises at quarterback: C.J. Stroud took all of the first-team reps, Kyle McCord led the second-team offense and Devin Brown was the third quarterback in the order.
  • The first-team offensive line remained as it has been all year: Paris Johnson Jr. at left tackle, Donovan Jackson at left guard, Luke Wypler at center, Matt Jones at right guard and Dawand Jones at right tackle. The second-team offensive line for most plays consisted of Zen Michalski, Enokk Vimahi, Jakob James, Ben Christman and Josh Fryar, Toby Wilson also saw some second-team reps at center but worked primarily with the third team, which also featured Avery Henry at left tackle, Jack Forsman at left guard, Tegra Tshabola at right guard and a mix of George Fitzpatrick and Carson Hinzman at right tackle.
  • Per usual, there was plenty of rotation on the defensive line, where J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Zach Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptiste all saw first-team reps at defensive end. Taron Vincent took most of the first-team reps at 3-technique defensive tackle with Mike Hall and Jerron Cage splitting first-team reps at nose tackle, while Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton took most of their reps with the second-team defense.
  • Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg were fixtures in the first-team defense at linebacker, with Teradja Mitchell joining them to play Sam linebacker during an inside run drill. Mitchell and Trayanum were the second-team linebackers while Cody Simon and Palaie Gaoteote took most of the third-team reps.
  • Ronnie Hickman and Josh Proctor led the way at safety. Lathan Ransom and Kourt Williams also mixed in for some first-team reps but ran primarily with the second-team defense. Kye Stokes, Sonny Styles and Jaylen Johnson all took third-team reps. Tanner McCalister and Martinez split the bulk of reps at nickel safety.

Additional Observations

  • McFarquhar’s interception came in tight coverage on Emeka Egbuka near the line of scrimmage during 7-on-7 drills and was one of the highlights of the day for the defense. JK Johnson intercepted a pass prior to the start of 7-on-7 work as Ohio State ran “mini-field” drills, and C.J. Hicks picked off a pass by Brown after the veterans left practice to allow the young players to get additional reps.
  • Players who took first-team reps with the punting unit included Mitch Rossi, Mitchell, Eichenberg, Chambers, Xavier Johnson, Kourt Williams, Fleming, Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr., Cade Stover and Bennett Christian. Players on the second-team punting unit included Simon, Joe Royer, Miyan Williams, McCalister, Gaoteote, Hickman, Trayanum, Sam Hart and Proctor. Martinez and Kaleb Brown were among those returning punts.
  • Styles also earned praise from Buckeye coaches during punt coverage sets at the start of practice, as the five-star defender knifed through the line to come close to blocking a couple punts from Jesse Mirco.
  • Holding down the first-team tight end spot for much of the day, Stover made multiple big plays in the passing game, getting free for an 80-yard touchdown during 7-on-7 reps and following it up with another chunk gain later on.
  • Xavier Johnson impressed during reps with the second- and third-team offenses. The fifth-year Buckeye wideout picked up a big gain over the middle of the field on a pass from McCord into a tight window during 11-on-11 work.
  • Former Ohio State offensive lineman Harry Miller, who medically retired from football back in March, was present at Buckeye practice Thursday. Miller spent time talking with running backs coach Tony Alford during one portion of Ohio State’s 7-on-7 drills but eventually began jogging around the outskirts of the outdoor fields at the WHAC.
  • Both Harrison and Egbuka pulled down impressive receptions that inspired excitement on the practice field during mini-field drills. Matched up one-on-one with Denzel Burke, Harrison raked in a pass from Stroud despite Ohio State’s star cornerback being draped all over him on the right side of the field. Egbuka made an equally challenging contested catch in the same series with Tanner McCalister providing nearly perfect coverage.
  • Ballard, Kaleb Brown and Zak Herbstreit also both made deep-ball catches during Thursday’s practice. Brown’s catch during the “young guys” portion of practice led to plenty of excitement from the veteran wide receivers as they watched the final periods of practice while doing their own post-practice stretching. Herbstreit, a walk-on tight end, got wide open on one of the final plays of practice and made a diving grab.
  • Kyion Grayes was a frequent target for Devin Brown during the young guys team period, as he showcased his ability to get open on short routes and make defenders miss with his cutting ability after the catch.
  • Eichenberg shined for much of the morning as the projected first-team Mike linebacker routinely found himself deep in the Buckeye backfield to blow plays up at several stages of practice. During the sequence in which Ohio State specifically focused on running the ball prior to 7-on-7 work, Eichenberg was especially juiced up after stopping Miyan Williams behind the line of scrimmage for a tackle for loss.
  • Justin Frye may have been the most vocally impassioned Buckeye coach on the day, as Ohio State’s first-year offensive line coach gave boisterous feedback to his unit in animated fashion on a number of occasions. While the Buckeyes drilled their power run game, one play in particular provoked Frye to jump into the mix amid the scarlet and gray scrum to issue a spirited and audible critique.
  • Scouts from the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in attendance to watch the practice.

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